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Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Enacting the Emergency Disaster Plan after a Storm

Near the end of June 2018, a storm with strong winds and heavy rain rolled through Bismarck. State Historical Society security received an alarm in the middle of the night for an off-site storage facility. Our security supervisor initially did not see any damage, but he went back in the morning to discover a section of the roof had blown off the building. There was significant water damage to an artifact room on the second floor. He followed protocol and immediately notified the staff members identified in our agency’s Emergency Disaster Plan to respond.

Damage from roof collapse

Part of a roof was damaged during a summer storm at the State Historical Society’s off-site storage facility. Ceiling tiles and water fell on some artifacts and some duct work for the HVAC system was destroyed.

Within a short time, Museum Division staff traveled to the storage facility to assess the situation. First power had to be turned off, since lighting fixtures were down and electrical wiring was exposed to standing water. The room was checked to make sure nothing overhead could fall and harm staff. The next step was to remove debris and wet artifacts from the room. As each artifact was moved to a different part of the building, water was blotted from the artifacts. Items were placed on newsprint near fans to dry quickly in order to prevent mold growth and further damage. A few upholstered pieces were packed with newsprint to help absorb water. Squeegees helped to remove standing water on the floor. Wet ceiling tiles and insulation were removed and thrown away. There was not enough extra space to move all artifacts from the damaged room, so plastic sheeting was put up to protect the remaining artifacts.

Artifacts set out to dry

Artifacts were placed on newsprint to dry. All of the crevices were packed with newsprint to draw out the moisture.

Inventorying artifacts

Staff members Len Thorson and Mark Halvorson inventoried the items being removed from the damaged room. Temporary locations were updated in the database for the displaced artifacts.

The damaged roof was salvageable as a temporary fix. It was secured until a new roof can replace it this fall. Administration staff arranged for a dumpster for debris and contacted insurance company adjusters, roofing contractors to examine the damage, and a heating and cooling company to check on a wet furnace and the destroyed ductwork. After it was deemed safe to do so, the electricity and some of the air handling units were turned on to help dry out the building.

Damage to roof

Temporary repair to roof

Before and after photos of the hole in the roof and the temporary repair.

A few days later, there was another storm with high winds and heavy rain. The plastic sheeting wall protecting the artifacts came down, and more water entered the building through the partially repaired roof. Luckily, no additional artifacts were damaged. The water was cleaned up and all of the artifacts still in the room were covered with plastic sheeting to protect them from future incidents.

Due to the agency’s Emergency Disaster Plan, all employees, from security to museum collections to administration, knew their roles and what they needed to do in such a situation. We did our best to take care of the objects in harm’s way, but there is still more to do. Staff continue to assess artifacts and update necessary reports. The roof and building need further repairs, and objects need to be moved back into storage locations following repairs. We plan to complete the roof and inside repair work in the next few months and are hiring an intern to assist with an inventory of artifacts and new storage solutions. Thanks to an agency staff that understood how to quickly respond because of the plan in place, numerous artifacts were saved and a team came together to smoothly resolve a disaster situation.

History Odysseys: Connecting with Places Where Interesting Things Happened

We all have moments in our lives that, when we look back, seem to define something important about us. One of mine took place on a hot summer day when I was in grade school. I was standing in the basement of the Alfred Dickey Library in Jamestown, ND. I remember my mom arguing with the librarian over how many books I could take home. It was the beginning of summer vacation, and we had placed two big stacks of Nancy Drew books on the checkout counter. Despite my mother’s assurances, the librarian was not convinced I could read all of those books in just two weeks. The librarian finally caved when she realized we lived on a farm. The library had a policy to extend book loans to a month for farm families. I was tickled to take my bag full of books out to the car, and before we got home, I was deep into The Secret of the Old Clock. A week later my mom was pretty tickled to return to the library to exchange my pile of books for a new stack.

Aisle full of books in a library

My favorite place to be--a library. Credit: Glen Noble on Unsplash.

Having learned this story about me, it probably won’t surprise you at all that I eagerly said yes when I was asked to help this same library with a new exhibit about Louis L’Amour. L’Amour, who spent his formative years in Jamestown, wrote about how influential the Alfred Dicky Library was to him as a kid. He credited the library with helping to shape his unconventional education. It was an education that led a high school dropout to become a bestselling author. Freshly renovated, the library is putting together a small exhibit about L’Amour’s years in Jamestown. More than two decades after his death, he is still a popular author. People often come through town looking for more of his personal story.

Exterior view of the Alfred Dickey Library

The Alfred Dickey Library in Jamestown, ND. Credit: Warren Abrahamson (NewsDakota.com).

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the library again and see the space where the planned exhibit will be installed. Walking up the flight of stairs into the library, seeing that beautiful stained glass, and smelling the library smell of my childhood brought a lot of memories flooding back for me. It’s moments like these that I remember how important the actual physical, tangible space of a place can be. You can read about a place in a book, but nothing can replace that experience of making a pilgrimage to that particular place. Smelling the smells. Hearing the sounds. Experiencing firsthand the scale of the space. This is an amazing experience that helps you better understand what really happen in a particular spot, at a particular time.

Contractors working in the Louis L'Amour Reading Room

Contractors finish work in the Louis L’Amour Reading Room at the Alfred Dickey Library in Jamestown, ND. Credit: Friends of the James River Valley Library System

Part of experiencing history, really getting into it, letting it seep into your pores and your imagination, is to make these pilgrimages, these odysseys, to the actual place where something interesting happened. The State Historical Society of North Dakota manages more than 50 museums and historic sites across the state where history really happened. Where will your journey take you?